Before I got involved in the cannabis industry, the War on Drugs was just some quaint campaign back in the eighties where you had Nancy Reagan reprimanding us to “Just Say No.” For me, and for so many others, it was best summed up in that PSA with the frying pan, the egg cracked into it, and the line: “this is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”
Neither I, nor most any of my friends, neighbors or community members ever had any questions, likely because we were exclusively white. We just assumed it was all for our individual and communal betterment. We never thought about it. Of course it was true!
Since I’ve been involved with the cannabis industry, and today have more friends, acquaintances and daily interactions with people who are black and brown rather than white, I now know that the War on Drugs was not about betterment and certainly wasn’t based on truth. As it’ been said before, this was never a war on drugs, rather, it was, and continues to be, a war on people. This war has devastated communities and lives - lives like my friend whom we’ll call Ed. Let me tell you about Ed and his dad.
Ed is a successful thirty-something year old entrepreneur and media guru. He is as self-made as self-made comes, and what he has endured and overcome in the process is staggering (all of which I will share in forthcoming blogs). You see, what Ed had to overcome were the ramifications of the War on Drugs. Although Ed was just a kid when Nancy Reagan was warning him to “Just Say No,” his dad was not a kid, nor was he saying no. He was saying yes: yes to cannabis, yes to using it and yes to selling it. And because he wouldn’t just say no, he is now twenty years into a 98 year prison sentence.
To be clear, Ed’s dad wasn’t a junkie. He wasn’t a deadbeat dad. He wasn’t a gang member or a thug. He was just a businessman at the wrong place, at the wrong time and of the wrong color.
After all, if Ed were doing the same thing today, in Colorado or California or Massachusetts, we wouldn’t call him a convict, we’d call him a cannapreneur. However, today, given that he is black, we probably wouldn’t even call him that, as he likely wouldn’t even have a seat at the legalized cannabis table.
Today, we’re still just saying no, only now it’s not to drugs but to people of color. We are saying no to them entering into the legal cannabis conversation and benefiting from the opportunities surrounding this plant. Whereas over eighty percent of those in prison for cannabis related crimes are people of color, more than ninety percent of those who own legalized cannabis companies are white.
Take Colorado where I live and work, for instance. Not surprisingly, in Colorado there are a lot of cannabis dispensaries - over 1000 last I heard. Granted, Colorado is a heavily white dominated state (at roughly 85%), above the national average. Still, that should result in roughly 15% of the dispensaries here being represented by people of color - particularly since they are over represented, like Ed, in Colorado prisons because of cannabis.
That, however, couldn’t be further from the case. There aren’t 150 cannabis dispensaries in Colorado owned by people of color. There aren’t even fifteen. At last count there were two!
When it comes to legal cannabis we say “yes” to whites and “no” to people of color. It’s as simple, and tragic, as that.
This isn’t right. This isn’t just. And this can not go on. We can no longer shut our eyes to these injustices. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and profess ignorance to the truth about the War on Drugs. It was unacceptable back in the day before cannabis was legalized. Today, however, as white men like myself are reaping the rewards of this plant, and men like Ed are still paying a terrible price for this plant, we are morally bound to do something about it.
It is time to stop saying to ourselves and the world, “Just Say No.” It is time to pardon men like Ed from prison. It is time to set them free and set them up for success in the very industry for which they’ve been persecuted. It is time for cannabis social equity. It is time to wake up, to stand up and to speak up and start saying “Just Say Know” - know the history, know the facts and know the truth.